Video Video Audio Transcripts Pictures
Alan Keyes and Barack Obama debate, hosted by Illinois Radio Network
October 12, 2004

JIM ANDERSON, MODERATOR: From the historic state capitol in Springfield, Illinois, this is the U.S. candidates' radio debate. Our candidates are Democratic State Senator Barack Obama and Republican former Ambassador Alan Keyes.

I'm Jim Anderson of the Illinois Radio Network, and I will be joined in questioning the candidates by Craig Dellimore, political editor of WBBN Newsradio in Chicago, and Mike Flannery, political reporter for channel 2 of Chicago.

Craig, tell us the rules.

CRAIG DELLIMORE, MODERATOR: Well, Mike Flannery, Jim Anderson and I will ask questions that we have chosen for this debate. We may also follow up. There are no set time limits for the answers. We hope that that will allow for more of a discussion of the issues, but we also want the two candidates to say what they have to say, and no more. If the candidate is not answering the question or repeatedly plowing the same rhetorical turf, we do reserve the right to nudge things along.

And moving right along, our first question comes from Jim Anderson.

ANDERSON: Ambassador Keyes, the U.S. has armed forces in Iraq. How long will they stay there, and when should they get out, and how should we get them out?

ALAN KEYES, (R) ILLINOIS U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE: I think they stay there until they get the job done. I know that John Kerry is preoccupied with an exit strategy, but as I've been telling folks lately, if you get into a battle and the only thing you're thinking about is how to get out, I think we have a word for you--and it's not very complimentary.

We are engaged in a war . . .

MODERATOR: What is the word?

KEYES: We are engaged in a war against terror that was started by the terrorists, that claimed the lives of thousands of Americans, that involves a global infrastructure of insidious individuals. We have seen the work they do, in Russia and elsewhere, against innocent lives in the most bestial fashion possible.

To fight that war, as I learned in my experience when I was on the National Security Council staff working directly on the problem of terrorism, it is not sufficient to have rhetoric, it is not sufficient to react after the fact. You have got to preemptively move against their bases, against their sources of supply, against their training camps, against the states the provide them with safe haven and infrastructure. If you do not, then they will simply prepare for further attacks.

And in a world where we have weapons of mass destruction, it's not good enough to say that, "Well, if there's a 50% chance that they could use them, I will act"--because once one such attack succeeds, we could end up losing tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of people.

I think that G.W. Bush has done the correct thing. He has moved preemptively in Afghanistan, he moved preemptively in Iraq--acting not on the wisdom of hindsight but on the foresight that is required in order to make sure that the American people will not again suffer even worse damage from this kind of insidious attack. And I think we ought to stay there until our national security purposes are served.

One point. We ought to understand that the national security objective is different than the political objective. It is up to the people of Iraq, and we can work with other countries, internationally, to help them establish a regime that will be more respectful of human rights, that will never again become a base for terror or involved in the infrastructure of terror. But our main objective in which we have to act, whether we have cooperation or not, is to defend the security and lives of our people.

MODERATOR: Senator Obama, you were against the war, no doubt about it, before the war began. But now you're in favor of keeping troops there. How long?

BARACK OBAMA, (D) ILLINOIS U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE: Well, let me first of all say thank you for hosting this debate.

Ambassador Keyes and I agree on one thing, and that is that the War on Terror has to be vigorously fought. Where we part company is how to fight it, because I think Afghanistan in fact was not a preemptive war, it was a war launched directly against those who were responsible for 9-11. Iraq was a preemptive war based on faulty evidence--and I say that not in hindsight, or Monday-morning quarterbacking. Six months before the war was launched, I questioned the evidence that would lead to us being there. Now, us having gone in there, I do think we now have a deep national security interest in making certain that Iraq is stable. If is it not stable, not only are we going to have a humanitarian crisis, I think we are also going to have a huge national security problem on our hands--because, ironically, it has become a hotbed of terrorists as a consequence, in part, of our incursion there.

In terms of timetable, I'm not somebody who thinks we can say with certainty that a year from now or six months from now we're going to be able to pull down troops. I think that we have to do three things. Number one, we have to rapidly advance the speed with which we are training Iraqi troops and security forces so that they can stabilize the country, and that's going to require our help.

But it's also going to require the help of the international community, which is why we have to internationalize this process. I'm under no illusions that the Germans and the French are going to be sending troops in any time soon, but I do believe that we can get them to put more resources into the training and infrastructure required to secure the Iraqi borders and the Iraqi streets.

And finally, I think it's important that we get our reconstruction moving. I think it is undeniable that the reconstruction process that has taken place has been completely inept. And that's not simply my estimation, that's the estimation of the two ranking Republican Senators on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Chuck Hagel and Dick Lugar, who issued a blistering attack on this administration six weeks before the presidential election. Highly unusual--and I think it indicates how badly botched this job has been.

MODERATOR: Senator Obama, Afghanistan has just conducted the first elections in its 5,000-year history. They appear to have gone very well--at least, up to this point. The Bush administration is pointing to that as a suggestion of the way the elections might proceed in Iraq. Is that not a hopeful sign for Iraq, and for the elections that we may be seeing there in January?

OBAMA: I think it is an absolutely hopeful sign for the people of Afghanistan. And as I have stated unequivocally, I have always thought that we did the right thing in Afghanistan. My only concerns with respect to Afghanistan was that we diverted our attention from Afghanistan in terms of moving into Iraq, and I think would could have done a better job of stabilizing that country than we have in providing assistance to the Afghani people.

But I think that all of us, Republican and Democrat, should be rooting for the Afghani people and making sure that we are providing them the support to make things happen. With respect to Iraq, I think it's going to be a tougher play. But, again, I don't think any of us should be rooting for failure in Iraq at this point. This is no longer George Bush's war, this is our war, and we all have a stake in it.

But, you know, the analogy that I use is that, you know, if a driver of a car, your car, drives it into a ditch, there are only so many ways to pull it out. And so, John Kerry is going to be doing many similar things to what George Bush is doing in terms of making sure that we do the best we can in Iraq.

That doesn't mean we don't fire the driver, and it doesn't mean that we don't examine carefully what lead us to be in this ditch in the first place. I think it was a bad strategic blunder--and as I said, that's not simply my estimation. That's the estimation of a number of Republicans.

MODERATOR: Ambassador Keyes, isn't there a distinction, as Senator Obama draws, between Afghanistan and Iraq and our military incursions into both places?

KEYES: As a matter of fact, I think there is not. I think one of the problems with folks who haven't really had much experience in dealing with terror is that they don't understand that we are in fact faced with a global infrastructure.

Saddam Hussein was providing, for instance, payments to the families of suicide bombers who were moving against the Israelis. Al Qaeda, when it acted against the United States and brought down the World Trade Center, Osama Bin Laden made it very clear that he was doing so on behalf of, he said, the Palestinians and their cause.

All of this suggests what is the reality: that we are not dealing with discrete elements here. We are dealing with a single war that has a front in Afghanistan, a front in Iraq, that has a covert series of fronts that we don't hear much about, but in which our people are presumably going after the cadre of terror, that has a financial front and other fronts.

To deal with this as if we're dealing with discrete little episodes is to show that you have no real understanding of the danger that we face. And I think the administration has acted comprehensively against a comprehensive threat.

The other thing that I think that naiveté neglects is that, in the face of the attack that we had on September 11th, it was absolutely essential to send a clear message to the entire terror network that we were not going to allow safe havens, that we were not going to allow states that aided and abetted the terrorists off the hook. This has had its desired effect, by the way, with the Libyans backing away from their commitment, with Syria now talking as if it wants to reach an accommodation.

So, I think it's a failure of strategic understanding if one isolates the Iraqi situation and does not see it in the context of what must be the larger mission of the United States to deal with the entire global infrastructure of terror. We have also, of course, created for ourselves a clear base of operations in the Middle East, that will then have further implications for others, including Iran, that might want to stir up trouble in the future.

So, I think we have to be persistent, we have to deal first and foremost with the national security challenge, we must work with others when it comes to the political arrangements for Iraq--but we must put first the safety of the people of the United States as we deal with the insidious threat of terror.

OBAMA: Let me just respond quickly by pointing out that, you know, Ambassador Keyes may have better intelligence than I do, but the CIA, Paul Bremer, Don Rumsfeld, Colin Powell have all indicated that they could not find a connection between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, that weapons of mass destruction are not found in Iraq. And so, it is absolutely true that we have a network of terrorists, but it takes a huge leap of logic to suddenly suggest that that means that we invade Iraq.

Saudi Arabia has a whole bunch of terrorists in Saudi Arabia. There are a whole bunch of terrorists in Syria and Iran, and all across the globe. And the notion that we then would stretch our military and our intelligence capacities to mount full-scale invasions as a consequence of that, I think is a bad strategy. It makes more sense for us to focus on those terrorists who are active, those cells that are active, to try to roll them up where we have evidence that in fact these countries are being used as staging grounds that would potentially cause us eminent harm, then I think that we go in. And I have been very clear about the fact that the United States has to reserve all military options in facing such an imminent threat--but we have to do it wisely.

KEYES: Well, see, I think that that's the fallacy, because you did make an argument just then from the wisdom of hindsight, based on conclusions reached now which were not in the President's hands several months ago when he had to make this decision.

And the thing I worry about with John Kerry and people like him, decisions aren't made with the wisdom after the fact. You have to move to defend the American people with the information you've got, and with a strategic vision that is determined to defend them against the probabilities, not just the certainties. And if you don't have the guts to make those decisions, then you shouldn't be President of the United States.

MODERATOR: Let's talk about some of the decisions that might have to be made. There may not be any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but there are such weapons in Iran, there are such weapons in North Korea. Ambassador Keyes, how strongly would you consider preemptive action against those nations?

KEYES: Well, all such decisions--and that's what I thought was one of the brilliant things about the Iraq decision--is that you go after those things that are most susceptible to the right kinds of action. Iraq was susceptible to direct military action, and so the President acted. If you're talking about North Korea, you have to look at the entire context in which we deal with the North Korean threat. And that includes relationships with the Chinese and the possibility that you're talking about something that could escalate into a larger war. We also have mechanisms preexisting for bringing international pressure to bear on both the North Koreans and the Iranians, when it comes to proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons.

I think that we consider the possibility of direct action in an appropriate form only if we have evidence that there is a probably threat, and that they are moving on that threat. Then, in order to defend Americans from death, you do what you have to do. In the meantime, you take advantage of those mechanisms that will allow you to address the problem without necessarily committing the nation to war. And that includes, by the way, a strategy that will work with indigenous elements in Iran in order to promote an alternative to the government there that would be more compatible with international and regional peace and security, more respectful of human rights.

This is the kind of comprehensive approach that needs to be taken and can be taken, so that you don't have to resort always to the sword, but that you keep it in readiness against those threats where it is required.

MODERATOR: Senator Obama, how would you handle the potential threat from countries like Iran and North Korea?

OBAMA: Well, I think that we have to do everything we can diplomatically. I think that the Bush administration has done the right thing in ratcheting up the pressure on Iran, and attempting to ratchet up some pressure on North Korea to see if they will stand down with respect to the development of nuclear weapons.

I must say that I am less optimistic about the threat, or, our ability to deal with the threat in Iran, in part as a consequence of Iraq. Because I think that the Iranians at this stage are fairly confident that it's going to be difficult for us to mount any significant military strike there, but I would reserve all options. And I have said this publicly, that, you know, we have to have to have all military options reserved in order to deal with these potential nuclear threats.

Let me just add one thing that I think is critical, and that is that one thing that it appears Ambassador Keyes and I may agree on is that the single biggest threat that we face is a nuclear weapon or some weapon of mass destruction. What that means is that we have to be extraordinarily aggressive and vigilant in controlling nuclear proliferation. We have a nuclear proliferation treaty and strategy that has failed. I think it failed in Iran. It also failed in North Korea. That has to be rewritten and renegotiated. And I think that we have to rapidly accelerate the manner in which we are locking down nuclear materials in the former Soviet Union. You know, the Lugar-Nunn bill has shown itself to work. Unfortunately, right now it's on a thirteen-year timetable, in which the United States puts in resources to make sure that those resources are secured. I think we can rapidly advance it to the point where we get it down to four years.

KEYES: I've got to say, I think that one of the problems is that you can't negotiate facts out of existence. When you are dealing with those facts, such as the potential that Iran might have for the development of nuclear weapons, such as Pakistan's possession of nuclear weapons. You have to deal with those facts as realities. It may be true that we have a nonproliferation regime in place. We can seek to bring pressure to bear. But I think we have to be ready to use appropriate tools.

And that doesn't necessarily mean that you have a massive invasion of this country or that. It can sometimes mean, as the Israelis have shown, that you move against that capacity, as they did when they bombed the nuclear reactors that were being developed in Syria and so forth.

These are things that can be done that need to be part of a comprehensive, forward-looking approach that includes, as I have said, the political dimension in Iran. I think if we are working with indigenous elements in Iran to promote a change in the respect for human rights, a change in the nature of representative government, a move toward a more pacific instead of terroristic approach to international relations, that will also preoccupy the Iranians in ways that will keep them from trying to stir up trouble, either for us or for others in the region.

MODERATOR: We're at the old state capitol in Springfield, Illinois. This is the U.S. Senate candidates' radio debate. Our candidates are State Senator Barack Obama, the Democrat, and Republican Alan Keyes, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Senator Obama, you talked about diplomacy and you said we have to exercise as much diplomacy as possible--but we're dealing here not with sovereign nations, we're dealing here with terrorists who . . .

OBAMA: Well, no. I was referring specifically with respect to Iran and North Korea. I was not referring to our dealings with terrorists. I think with terrorists I have a very hawkish position. I think we should hunt them down, kill them, dismantle their operations. And to do that, we've got to drastically improve our intelligence gathering. We have to, on a bipartisan basis, I think recognize that we've had significant intelligence failures. I'm glad to see that we have a new director of the CIA that was approved. And I think the Democrats did the right thing by not blocking that appointment. And I think that all of us have to take to heart the 9-11 Commission Report and the recommendations that it made that we start consolidating our intelligence operations, that we improve our intelligence on the ground so that we have human intelligence and not simply relying on satellite data. All those things are going to take time, but we have to move as rapidly as possible with them.

MODERATOR: Would you please assess where the U.S. stands diplomatically? Do we have a bad reputation now?

OBAMA: Well, I think that this administration has not been very good at what's been called the exercise of "soft power." You know, all of us recognize and reserve the right of the United States to exercise its military power in the national interest and for our national security--but we also have to recognize that a lot of our power comes from our ideals, our belief in freedom, our belief in democracy, our belief in the ability to work things through in a manner that comports with whatever frameworks of international law that have been shaped. And I think that, unfortunately, this administration has tended to be dismissive of any international efforts--and in his campaign, I think you witness it with a general disdain for, quote unquote, "globalism." In some cases, this is just a function of us trying to have conversations with our allies so that we can move more effectively.

KEYES: See, I think the great problem is that you cannot give a soft response to a hard threat. It would be kind of like trying to meet a bayonet with a spaghetti noodle. And it's not going to help the people of this country to survive.

After 9-11, we were faced with a hard threat. We had lost thousands of people, and we had to move aggressively. The belief that Afghanistan was enough is a belief based on a failure to understand the global infrastructure of terror--so that you deal with the threat that has hit you instead of with the threats that will hit you later if you neglect to preemptively move against their bases of support.

It is precisely in order to create a situation in which maybe people who would be otherwise supportive of this bloodthirsty threat will respond a little better to your overtures that you move with decision against regimes like the Iraqi regime that had shown itself disposed to support terror, to fund terror, to be part gleefully of the global infrastructure of terror--and to act against them before they have the opportunity to act against you.

MODERATOR: Gentlemen, I think we've explored your differences on this pretty clearly. Let's move on. Let's pivot to domestic issues. Canals, roads, railroads, this capitol building--Abraham Lincoln worked tirelessly to move the capitol from Vandalia to here and to build this building. You've been, each of you, now for some months or years, you've been traveling around the state. Specifically, Ambassador Keyes, what infrastructure projects do you think are priorities in Illinois, and which ones would you work for in the U.S. Senate?

KEYES: Well, I think that there is a serious infrastructure priority that has to do with what I call "fixing the plumbing."

But let me state, as a preference, that I think dealing with our infrastructure ought to be a no-brainer. It's sort of like somebody who owns a house, and when the plumbing starts to fall into disrepair, you don't wait around as the whole place deteriorates. . . .

MODERATOR: [interrupting and talking over Keyes] The problem is that there are so many pieces of plumbing falling apart. We need priorities. What specifically--

KEYES: Let me finish. Excuse me, excuse me. . . . Let me finish.

MODERATOR: The question was, what specific projects are you in favor of.

KEYES: Excuse me, sir. Let me finish.

And so, if you--I don't see that we should really be in any doubt that we move to deal with those infrastructure problems that are clear, starting with the problem that supports one of the most important sectors in our state, which is the need to take the 70-year-old locks and dams that have been preserved by the Corp of Engineers, but which everybody knows now are in need of attention so that we can maintain the transport system that supports our agriculture. I think that that would be a first priority.

Second, we have the problem of congestion in the air space over O'Hare that has been, I believe, held up by a whole bunch of political paralysis; people paying lip service to what needs to be done, while they stand back in fear of having to deal with what is really, at the end of the day, an effort to control the situation politically.

We need to break the political log-jam, we need to move to develop the infrastructural potential of this state--starting by looking at Rockford and what could be done there to develop what is, after all, an airport with 10,000-foot runways capable of handling both freight and passengers. That would help to relieve the pressure, with respect to O'Hare. We need to stop talking about the development of a south-suburban airport and start developing the plans that will make sure that we do it--and don't do it in a piecemeal fashion, either. This notion that you start with something, and then later, when it becomes a problem, you expensively revamp it and move on to something else--we need a comprehensive, modular plan that would allow us to begin answering that problem, providing both the jobs and the economic opportunities for people who are in the south side and the south suburbs, and so forth, and to do it in a way that then allows us to build progressively, in the course of the next twenty years, to add on to that airport, as needed, in order to meet the challenges of Illinois' future.

That can't be dealt with unless you are willing to deal with the problem of freight. And I think that here we are in danger of losing one of the most important assets of the state, if we're not willing to look at what needs to be done to improve the situation in terms of freight rail, and to get federal support and participation, so that we can develop that infrastructural priority.

We also need to look at the way in which we connect the airports and the major areas with light rail that will allow us to move passengers easily between those airports that allow opportunity for goods and services to be moved in and out of the state.

And finally, I think we need to integrate central and southern Illinois into this plan, by making sure that we have encouraged Amtrak to develop its full potential, in terms of rail transportation, that knits together our whole state.

MODERATOR: So you disagree with the Bush administration's Amtrak cutbacks. You think more money should be spent there by the federal government?

KEYES: I think that infrastructure ought to be a priority.

MODERATOR: All right. Craig has an announcement to make.

CRAIG DELLIMORE: You're listening to the first debate between Republican U.S. Senate candidate Alan Keyes and Democratic Senate candidate Barack Obama. We're coming to you from the old state capitol in Springfield, and we're going to give the stations of the Illinois Radio Network five seconds to identify themselves.


Senator Obama, you wanted to respond.

OBAMA: Well, I actually, I think Ambassador Keyes and I agree on a couple of things. I think freight rail is important, and that's part of what makes us the transportation hub of the nation. And I think we need to significantly improve on it. There's already a program in place called CREATE that would create a public/private partnership in order to improve our rail line capacity. I think the south suburban airport is a good idea--although we may depart on how to build it. Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr., has come up with, I think, a plan that involves private investors who are willing to lay out the risk for this project, and I think we should get moving on it quickly.

I do believe in O'Hare expansion. That's the crown jewel of our transportation system. And we need to go ahead and make that happen.

But there are some other major projects that are crying out for funding in downstate Illinois. Let me give you a couple of examples. Locks and dams has already been mentioned, and I think that's something that we both support. The FutureGen Project down in southern Illinois, that could do something about revitalizing the coal industry in southern Illinois by funding a billion-dollar project to develop clean coal technology, so that Illinois coal can be utilized in a way that's environmentally sound.

That is actually something that not only Illinois should want, but the entire nation should want, because one of our highest priorities has to be energy and dependence in the future. There are a couple of others, like the Mississippi bridge project, that had been languishing and waiting for the funding to get moving on these projects--those are the kinds of things that I think we have to make investments on that are good for the future of Illinois.

MODERATOR: Senator Obama, we're going to turn to healthcare. Neither you nor Ambassador Keyes would have supported the new federal prescription benefits for seniors, but your reasons are very different. What do you think is wrong with that approach as a way to address the rising cost of healthcare?

OBAMA: I think it was fundamentally flawed as a piece of legislation. The central premise of this prescription drug bill that was passed by President Bush was that the federal government, through the Medicare program, and senior citizens who were beneficiaries of that program, could not negotiate for the best possible price with the drug companies, so that they could actually get the kinds of discounts the Canadians enjoy for the drugs that are manufactured here in the United States.

The reason that that was done is because the drug companies didn't let it happen. And as a consequence of that, what we have is a bill that's bad for taxpayers and bad for senior citizens. Taxpayers are hit with a half-a-trillion-dollar tab that was originally estimated at three hundred billion. And about three weeks later, is was suddenly half a billion dollars or half a trillion dollars, and seniors have a big donut hole in the middle of their benefits. So, what I would do is I would say that senior citizens, through the Medicare program, can do the same thing that Wal-Mart does and other large companies do. Because they are bulk purchasers, they go and they negotiate the best possible price as a consequence of being bulk purchasers--and that would be something that I think that all people should support, because it comports with basic free-market principles.

MODERATOR: Ambassador Keyes, Senator Obama seems to think this program did not go far enough. I believe you think it went too far.

KEYES: Well, no. I think that part of the problem is that we resort to government spending before we have done the common-sense things that are necessary to, for instance, apprise people of the opportunities that are right there in front of them.

A lot of studies have been done that show that if people are apprised of the advantages of generic drug purchases, the same kinds of results that they are getting from very expensive brand name drugs can be produced, and that you can actually, if you are able to shop around and have the necessary information, reduce your drug costs by even 90 and 95%.

But before we have explored that kind of ability to develop an informational response that empowers people with the knowledge to make better use, and more cost-effective use, of the dollars already being spent, we are throwing good money after bad.

We're also suggesting that we need to take an approach that ignores the reality for some of our pharmaceutical companies. I believe in a balance. I believe we have to be sure that consumers are getting access, cost-effectively, to the best prices they can find in drugs, but at the same time, if we do it in such a way that we undercut what is necessary to repay the costs--not only to pharmaceutical companies, by the way, but also to the taxpayers--of the research and development that goes into the development of new drugs, then we are going to find ourselves killing the goose that lays the pharmaceutical golden egg. And we'll be destroying that which actually produces an expanding horizon of effectiveness on the part of our drugs.

So, I think we need an approach that will, first of all, empower folks with the information they need in order to take advantage of the existing marketplace to make more cost-effective use of their dollars.

And second, I think it's a comprehensive problem that has to do with our whole healthcare system. We need to be doing things like medical savings accounts, empowering the consumer to be an effective policeman of the relationship between price and quality in the health marketplace.

And finally, we need also, for the benefit of seniors, to be encouraging people who are in the prime of life to be taking better care of themselves. One of the reasons we have skyrocketing healthcare costs is because we have an expanding sickness arising--partly due to the fact that we're not applying the lessons we know about fitness and about diet, in order to make sure that people take the steps they can take to remain healthy in their prime years as long as possible. If we did that, it would reduce cost and free up resources that can then be used for seniors and others who need help.

MODERATOR: Senator Obama.

OBAMA: Let me just say that I think that the use of generics is important, and one of the things I'm proud of as the chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee is that I've continually encouraged the use of generic drugs at the state level. Part of the problem and the reason we're not using generic drugs as much as we should is because we have a convoluted set of patent laws that allow drug companies to change the shape or color of the tablet, and as a consequence, renew their patents and block generic drugs from coming onto the market. So, those kinds of approaches I think do have to be taken.

I also think that it does make sense for us to encourage preventative care and improve our health and lifestyles. But let me tell you a quick story of a father in Galesburg that I met who had just lost his job, just got his pink slip, and whose son had just had a liver transplant, and he's trying to figure out how does he pay $4,200 a month in immunosuppressant drugs in order to keep his son alive. Now, the reason that son had a liver transplant is not solvable by better health. Crises happen in our lives. And one of the things that I think that we absolutely have to do is to make sure that, to the extent possible, we control costs when we can and we expand affordability and accessibility of healthcare.

KEYES: Well, I think one of the problems is, you look at that situation, and there are two problems: the first is, obviously, you can't deal with a catastrophic situation with a general response, but you can, through a greater emphasis--not just on preventative care, but on the responsibility people have--to follow the prescription that will keep them as healthy as possible, you can free up the resources needed to help people in those catastrophic situations.

But I would say that in that situation, the real root of the problem isn't medical at all; it's these badly negotiated trade agreements that have resulted in the destruction of the manufacturing base and job base of our workers here in Illinois.

I have consistently voiced, even against the leadership in my party, the belief that we need freedom trade and fair trade. Free trade is a myth--and those people who say it's a good thing are actually selling out the American people in favor of a handful of special interests who are outsourcing our jobs, allowing these despotisms in China and elsewhere to export goods into the United States when they refuse to pay the price in terms of what's needed to respect union rights and freedom of association and the decent conditions of work.

We pay that price in America. And yet, when these cheap goods come over here, we allow that slave good to compete with our free good without making any distinction whatsoever between the false price of the slave-produced good and the real price that reflects human dignity and human rights.

I think it's time that we stood against this kind of false doctrine that's benefiting a handful of special interests while it destroys the manufacturing base in Illinois. 18.8% of our manufacturing jobs lost since 1998, and I think it's mainly due to the fact that we have not had folks to stand up in the United States Senate with the experience, the background, the skill that I have gained from years of negotiating in the international arena, to speak truth to our colleagues in the Senate about how we need to change this bad and false approach.

MODERATOR: There's a whole question we didn't ask, but Senator Obama, you might as well get a chance to respond to as well.

OBAMA: I think our current trading structures are flawed. And I think we need to do better. And I've suggested in this campaign very specific ways that I think we can do better.

It is absolutely true, for example, that when China devalues its currency by 40%, that it makes our exports more expensive to China, and theirs vastly cheaper. And the irony is that about 50% of the trade deficit that we have with China are actually as a consequence of multinational companies that have moved and relocated to China and then are shipping back goods that used to be produced right here in the United States. That's a bad deal for United States workers--which means that our administration and our Congress, when we're thinking about our trade agreements, whether it's NAFTA or any other trade agreement, has to make sure that we're negotiating not just on behalf of these multinational companies, but that we're negotiating on behalf of workers and communities.

And the--now, what is also true is that we've got a tax code that is encouraging flight of jobs and outsourcing. And that's why we've specifically recommended in this campaign that Congress change our tax code so that we stop giving tax breaks to companies that are moving to Mexico and China and other places, and start putting those tax breaks into companies that are investing here in the United States.

MODERATOR: Ambassador Keyes, I want to ask something specific in your response, because the tariffs that you want to put on those foreign companies that are trying to sell their goods here also would go on to, say, a Wal-Mart or a Target that may be getting many of its goods from China. Now we're talking retail jobs that may be threatened by the kind of higher prices that people would be finding at those stores.

KEYES: Actually, I think that's static analysis. One of the problems that we have right now is that we are shrinking our manufacturing and industrial base. We're taking people from high qualities of life to lower standards. They can't go into Wal-Mart and buy the kind of goods that they could buy if we had preserved those higher-paying jobs.

So, I think we ought to look at this dynamically. We are paying a cost in terms of what should be going on in the retail sector because we have depressed the real earnings of Americans since this whole business began, by 12% or more, since we started with this whole "free trade" regime--which is a misnomer.

I think, as well, the scheme that Senator Obama is talking about, it irritates me a little bit, because here we are: our workers have already paid a price in terms of lost jobs, lost opportunities, reduced quality of life, then we want to ask taxpayers to foot the bill for some incentives to keep companies in America, when the government created the problem in the first place by negotiating bad trade agreements that give them an incentive to outsource the jobs overseas.

Let's go to the root of the problem. Let's deal with the fact that, if we weren't negotiating these agreements in multilateral fora that strip the United States of most of its clout that is the result of the hard work of our people, we would be getting better results--not just for our workers, but also for our farmers, where we haven't been able to get access to the richest markets for their farm products. And instead, we have the Japanese and others saying, "Oh, we've opened the door a crack," and I'm thinking, "But you haven't put your head out yet, and in point of fact, you're exploiting down to the ground the hard work of the American people, as they have put together the strongest engine of economic development in the world." Everybody's taking advantage of it, and we're letting them take advantage of us.

OBAMA: Just a quick point of clarification. In terms of our proposal, it's not having taxpayers give additional tax breaks, these are eliminating tax breaks that have been loaded up in the existing tax code, and us eliminating them and giving those same tax breaks. If we're going to give tax breaks they should go to companies that are creating jobs here in the United States.

MODERATOR: Ambassador Keyes, let's talk about the farm economy. The more farmers produce, the less they get for every bushel of corn and beans that they send down the Illinois river. Very few farmers own the land they farm. There's not a future in the business, it looks like. I mean, the average farmer is like 60 years old. What do you see is the future of this business?

KEYES: I think it has a great future, because if it doesn't, America has no future.

One of the things I learned in my experience dealing with the problems of economic development around the world--and that's what I did as Assistant Secretary, as Ambassador to the Economic and Social Council, dealing with the north-south dialogue, dealing with development challenges--do you know what the major problem is in most developing countries? They can't solve the problem of agriculture. If you don't have a thriving agricultural sector, if you haven't done, as we have, what's necessary to create a predictable and stable environment of profitability for your farmers, then everything else is going to fall to pieces.

It's one of the reasons why I have objected so strongly to something I have found in Illinois, that there are people in the leadership who seem to believe that it's sort of Chicago and "the great Illinois desert."

I greatly respect the strength and dynamism of Chicago, but we need to understand that the Illinois economy is based on the powerhouse of Illinois' agriculture. And we need to be taking the steps that are necessary, maintaining the support programs, developing the infrastructure, distributing opportunity in terms of jobs and other things around our state so that some of the young people will stay in their communities, will remain close to the land, will remain part of the rural and farm economy, instead of being drained off to other states and other areas.

These are the kinds of approaches that will assure that we not only get the economic dynamism, but the other thing that I think is critical: the rural agricultural sector also represents, as Jefferson pointed out many years ago, a contribution in terms of our cultural heritage, of our moral values, of respect for family life and self-discipline and hard work--the kinds of things that Abraham Lincoln came to represent and that our rural farm communities and those that are close to land still represent today.

And I think that's why I think overall we need to make a commitment to make sure that we will have leaders who speak for all of Illinois, recognizing the co-interdependence of our urban areas, our suburban areas, and our rural areas, without acting as if we should neglect them, as Governor Blagojevich has done. He can't even find his way to Springfield, he shows such contempt for the people in central and southern Illinois.

MODERATOR: It's nice that you found your way to Springfield. Am I to understand that you're saying that a mega-hogfarm may be an excellent business model in terms of efficiency, but we need family farms because of the tradition and moral underpinnings associated with them?

KEYES: Well, I'm not saying it; I think it has been something that has been said throughout the history of this country. Every time we have a debate on the farm bill, the virtues of the family farm are lauded, but sometimes we pass measures that then don't show much respect for the real requirements of sustaining the independent and smaller farmer. I think one of the important things is access to capital, and making sure that we have a banking system that is structured to be a citizen of our rural communities, rather than imposing the priorities of an international banking structure on people in those communities.

If we take account of that kind of need through both government action and through the restructuring of our financial base, to respect the requirements, particularly in terms of access to capital of our family farms, we'll see them survive better and longer.

MODERATOR: The clock is ticking. Senator Obama?

OBAMA: Well, I think that the farm economy is vital, not just to rural areas, it's vital to the entire state of Illinois, which is why I'm proud of the fact that over the last eight years, as a member of the state legislature, I have consistently supported programs that would improve the farm economy.

One particular example, I think, is ethanol. This is a vital program, something that is responsible to a large degree for the marginal profits that most farmers in this state have, and as a consequence, that money gets re-circulated into this economy. I've consistently supported it, and I think it's something that we have to go ahead and get done at the federal level--improving bio-diesel, and other alternative uses for our wonderful agricultural products, I think is critical, and investing more in the wonderful research labs that we have throughout the state of Illinois I think would make a big difference.

I do think that there is a big difference between family farms and agri-business, and one of the distressing things that I think has occurred is with consolidation of farm lands. You've seen large agri-businesses benefit from enormous profits from existing farm programs, and I think we should be focusing most of those programs on those family farmers. I'm glad that Ambassador . . .

MODERATOR: Could I jump in here? Because, again, the clock is ticking, and that leads to the question about this monstrous federal deficit. Is it a problem, is it a threat to the future of America's children? Or is it not a problem? Senator Obama.

OBAMA: I think it's an enormous problem.

MODERATOR: What are you going to do, specifically, to cut it or to raise, either to stop spending, or to raise revenues?

OBAMA: I think it is an enormous problem. This has been the most fiscally-irresponsible administration in certainly my memory.

We have gone from trillion-dollar surpluses to trillion-dollar deficits in the blink of an eye. Not all of those costs are the fault of the administration, obviously. 9-11 occurred, and the decline in the economy. But what is also true is that it was aided and abetted by a set of fiscal policies that I think were on the wrong course.

We could take a look, for example, of yesterday's vote. You've got a corporate Christmas tree--what John McCain called the worst lobbyist bill that he has ever seen come down the pike--pass through the Senate. And I think it has to stop. So, specifically, here are some things that I think has to be done. Number one, we have to return to pay as you go. Up until this administration, for a decade we were operating under a regime that said if you want to cut taxes or you want to increase spending, you've got to figure out how it balances out. And that constrained both those who wanted to increase spending on domestic programs, but it also constrained those who would cut taxes without a corresponding cut in spending. So, that has to take place--and until we have that kind of approach, I think we're going to continue to see a one-sided approach that runs up the [unintelligible] for our kids.

MODERATOR: [talking over] Ambassador Keyes, some specific cuts or tax increases? You want to reinstate tariffs, I know, so that would bring in revenue. But what about cuts?

KEYES: Before we get into the question of specific cuts, let's deal with the real source of the problem, why don't we. And the real source of the problem is, first, a morally-irresponsible attitude toward the burden that we're placing on future generations, both in the actual deficit of the federal government, in the unfunded liabilities that are being passed on to future generations in the Medicare and Social Security programs. These are things that I believe we have a responsibility to deal with.

How do we deal with them? It's really first that you've got to tackle what I believe is the major problem. When I was at Citizens Against Government Waste as president, we challenged a balanced budget approach, a taxpayer bill of rights that would require that the government stay within the limits of inflation and population growth, and that when the government's budget expanded, it would respect those limits and make the necessary cuts and adjustments in order to stay within those limits.

But in order to that, you're going to have to change the whole Christmas-tree-approach to politics that sadly is represented by many of our politicians, particularly those of the liberal persuasion, who want to hang the Christmas tree ornaments of "gimme" politics, whether it's for corporations or others, on the tree of government budgeting.

I think we've got to realize that a different approach is required--an approach that will encourage people to take back control of their families, of their schools, of their lives, of their sense of responsibility. It's one of the reasons I favor abolishing the income tax and giving people once again control of their surplus income, so they can invest it and decide what to do with it.

The dollars that the government spends do not produce the kind of economic results that the dollar spent in the private sector can produce. That's why folks who think, "Well, we'll fund this with tax cuts," I mean, "with tax increases," are doing it the wrong way around. When we saw the tax cuts of the Reagan years, do you realize we had the greatest expansion in the revenue base that we'd seen in the history of the country? In every year of the Reagan tax cuts, more revenue was produced than in any year in the course of our history.

MODERATOR: Are there specific spending cuts you'd make?

KEYES: We need to get back to the fundamentals, in order to stop the whole approach to politics that produces the expansion of the deficit by trying to fund the reelection of politicians through pork-barrel spending.

And I think that when we address the root problem, we won't have to bicker in this class warfare way over who's paying for what, because we will have returned to an approach to government that keeps our politicians within the boundaries of responsibility.

MODERATOR: Ambassador Keyes, we have to move on, and we have very little time in which to do it, but you have accused your opponent of infanticide. He says you don't understand what that vote was about. You have to be very brief on this, though, but explain what it is you mean when you say he has voted for infanticide.

KEYES: Well, I think it's very clear. The Born Alive Infant Protection Act that was aimed at making sure that children born alive after an abortion procedure would not be set aside to die like garbage--when babies at exactly the same stage of development are being accessed and then saved right there down the hall in the same hospitals where they are boasting about their ability to save preemies. I think that we have to take seriously the testimony of people like Jill Stanek and others, and not pretend that this problem does not exist.

There was a bipartisan vote in support of the need to stop this in the Illinois senate, so a lot of people heard and were moved by the cogent testimony, instead of extending the mentality of so-called "abortion rights" to the business of taking fully-born babies . . .

Now, everybody should understand this. This isn't a child in the womb.

A fully-born, human infant for whom a birth certificate will be issued and a death certificate will be issued--and in between those two issuances, the child is not being treating with the same respect that you or I would demand for our right to life.

And I think that's a travesty. Senator [Obama] ignored that travesty, not once, not twice, but three times on the plea now, I suppose, that this problem does not exist. I guess he's calling the nurses involved liars.

MODERATOR: Senator Obama.

OBAMA: Well, you know, this is apparently the entire basis on which Ambassador Keyes decided to contradict himself with respect to his views about federalism and not carpet-bagging and not running in other states. According to Ambassador Keyes, this was the reason, this bill. And unfortunately, it's premised on a falsehood. You know, if Ambassador Keyes had called me up, he could have saved himself a trip because existing Illinois law mandates that any infant that has a chance for survival is provided life-saving treatment. Not only that, you've got to have a second doctor there to certify that in fact that is the case. That continues to be the case, that is current law today, as it should be.

Now, the bill that was put forward was essentially a way of getting around Roe vs. Wade, which is why 21 other senators, Democrat and Republican, why the Illinois Medical Society objected to the bill. At the federal level there was a similar bill that passed because it had an amendment saying this does not encroach on Roe vs. Wade. I would have voted for that bill.

KEYES: I find it fascinating that . . .

MODERATOR: We really are out of time, if you want to have time to make your closing statements.

SECOND MODERATOR: Gentlemen, you've each got about a minute. I'm going to ask you a simple question. Tell the people why you should vote for you.

KEYES: Well, I think the most important reason is that we have to start looking at the root problems that are besetting our society.

And the root problem is clear: when you examine what contributes to the failures of our educational system, when you examine what is contributing to the rise in poverty, when you examine--as I was reading in a paper the other day that was given me by the Metropolitan Planning Council, they examined the affordable housing gap, and do you know what they found? They found that the change in family structure, the move to single-parent households, the decline of our family structure was the main contributing factor to the lack of affordable housing.

The problem here is not simply a problem you can throw money at. We have got to deal with the underlying fact that we have been destroying the moral culture of the family, hardening the heart of parents against their children with abortion, with the wholesale assault against the traditional family--traditional marriage that Barack Obama does not want to defend. He refuses to support the family marriage amendment, he refuses to support the Defense of Marriage Act.

But if we are not willing to restore our respect for the moral values that underlie our families, as the family fails, America will fail.

I think we need to get to that root problem and restructure our approach in all of these areas, in order to address the moral crisis of the country.

MODERATOR: Barack Obama, why should people vote for you?

OBAMA: Well, I'm very proud of the track record that I've developed. As a community organizer with church-based organizations on the far south side helping dislocated workers, as a civil rights attorney, and for the last eight years as a state senator--in each of those instances, I've been motivated by a belief that government can't solve all our problems, but that it can help in terms of dealing with the crushing burdens that many of our middleclass families are experiences.

You know, as I've traveled across the state for the last eighteen months, what people are worried about is whether an illness in their family is going to cause them to go bankrupt. They're concerned about whether the job that they have right now is going to stay here, and whether their pensions are going to be secure. Senior citizens are concerned about whether or not they're going to have prescription medicine.

In each of those instances, I have specific programs that I have proposed, but more than just talking the talk, I've walked the walk. Over the last eight years, I can point to specific accomplishments that will actually help ordinary working families--and I hope that those voters look at that record.

MODERATOR: Gentlemen, thank you. That concludes the debate between Republican Alan Keyes and Democrat Barack Obama for the U.S. Senate. And the Illinois Radio Network, from Mike Flannery of CBS 2 Chicago and Jim Anderson of IRN, I'm Newsradio 780's Craig Dellimore, and we thank you for listening.

Terms of use

All content at, unless otherwise noted, is available for private use, and for good-faith sharing with others — by way of links, e-mail, and printed copies.

Publishers and websites may obtain permission to re-publish content from the site, provided they contact us, and provided they are also willing to give appropriate attribution.